Monday, January 11, 2016

William Safire's article from 1985 titled - MAD Is Dead


Published: March 11, 1985


William Safire
 WASHINGTON— The exchange between the Ukrainian Communist Party boss Vladimir Shcherbitsky and Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office last week was considerably more spirited than reported.

Mr. Shcherbitsky, a high-ranking Politburo member, was sent here to test the President's mettle on the eve of the resumption of arms talks.

Mr. Reagan, as usual, began to ladle out the charm, but the Soviet leader did not respond with the crabbed stolidity of a Gromyko: instead, Mr. Shcherbitsky had been instructed to cut through the small talk with a harsh threat about the huge buildup and cold war in store if the U.S. pursued its new space- defense strategy.

The President's memoirs will draw on a memcon that shows how the charm ladle was promptly set aside. Mr. Reagan jabbed back, and Mr. Shcherbitsky renewed the verbal attack, insisting that the Russian people would not permit this new threat. Mr. Reagan replied sharply to the effect that ''the people in the Soviet Union don't have much to say about what their Government does.'' The Kremlin likes to measure American leaders by shaking them up. President Kennedy responded too mildly to the verbal testing by Khrushchev in Vienna in the early 60's, which led to a mistaken judgment and the Cuban missile crisis. A decade later, President Nixon responded icily to the furious initial bombast of Brezhnev in his dacha outside Moscow, which led to a realistic Russian assessment and a period of detente. Mr. Shcherbitsky has undoubtedly reported to the Sanhedrin of decrepitude composing the Politburo that Mr. Reagan, when pushed hard, pushes back hard. The President, after the meeting, was troubled by the Ukrainian's tough gambit and wondered whether he had been wise to let Mr. Shcherbitsky get his dander up. Secretary of State Shultz assured Mr. Reagan that his natural response was on target: It had been important to signal the Russians that intimidation would not work, and for good measure, ''this is not the sort of talk they ever get to hear.''

The Shcherbitsky report will be useful to the Kremlin, because the arms- control negotiations (ACNE) resuming in Geneva this week are based on a new reality. The decade that led to the Russian superiority in offensive missiles and in battle-management radar protection of those missiles has ended; the decade of defense has begun.

Many Americans resist that reality. Some with silly scorn at ''Star Wars,'' others with reasoned argument against the abandonment of Mutual Assured Destruction deterrence theory, hold that Mr. Reagan's new approach threatens the Russians by removing their ability to retaliate if we launch a first strike.

The serious objections have weight. But the President's proposal to build up defense and reduce offense has an intellectual underpinning, and has the added weight of an election. The President's judgment is challengeable, and his budgeting is debatable, but in the end most Americans acknowledge he has been elected to be responsible for nuclear strategy. MAD is dead. It started to die exactly two years ago, in March of 1983, when Mr. Reagan first proposed to leapfrog the Soviet Union's offensive advantage; the old, naked-to-mine- enemy deterrence made rattling sounds in the campaign, when Mr. Mondale supported it in televised debate; the old theory died forever with Mr. Reagan's landslide re-election. The new idea made possible by technology - a defense shield to protect most of us against incoming missiles - is now unstoppable. It protects both superpowers against the greatest immediate nuclear danger, from a terrorist nation armed with bomb and missile and no concern for retaliation, as there will surely be soon. Because it will no longer depend on the sanity of dictators or the kindness of strangers, it returns defense to the hands of the defender. This galls the Russian leaders, who spent 20 years catching and passing the Americans in nuclear offensive power. Strategic dominance was in sight; now here they are, either obliged to compete in an expensive space-defense race, or forced to settle for permanent nuclear equality.

No wonder they bluster and glower at the new reality. They will try, for a time, to preserve their land-missile advantage, railing against the sea- change in nuclear strategy, for no nation resists change like the U.S.S.R.

One day, not soon, they will deal with reality. We will recall then what Mr. Reagan said dryly to Mr. Shcherbitsky, as they parted: ''I hope the negotiators do better than we did.''


From Wikipedia:

SDI and MAD  

SDI was criticized for potentially disrupting the strategic doctrine of Mutual assured destruction. MAD postulated that intentional nuclear attack was inhibited by the certainty of ensuing mutual destruction. Even if a nuclear first strike destroyed many of the opponent's weapons, sufficient nuclear missiles would survive to render a devastating counter-strike against the attacker. The criticism was that SDI could have potentially allowed an attacker to survive the lighter counter-strike, thus encouraging a first strike by the side having SDI. Another destabilizing scenario was countries being tempted to strike first before SDI was deployed, thereby avoiding a disadvantaged nuclear posture. Proponents of SDI argued that SDI development might instead cause the side that did not have the resources to develop SDI, too, rather than launching a suicidal nuclear first strike attack before the SDI system was deployed, instead come to the bargaining table with the country that did have those resources, and, hopefully, agree to a real, sincere disarmament pact that would drastically decrease all forces, both nuclear and conventional.[citation needed] Furthermore, the MAD argument was criticized on the grounds that MAD only covered intentional, full-scale nuclear attacks by a rational, non-suicidal opponent with similar values. It did not take into account limited launches, accidental launches, rogue launches, or launches by non-state entities or covert proxies.